Blackjack Card Counting Strategies

Julie Bowring

Posted On:   MAY - 11 - 2020

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Blackjack Card Counting

What’s Card Counting?

The term ‘blackjack card counting’ is exactly what you think it means. It is the act of counting cards in a game of blackjack. It refers to you paying attention to every card that is being dealt to you, to other players the dealer as well. By keeping track of what cards have been dealt already, you have a better idea of what cards are likely to pop up next.

Maths All Over Again?

Yes, card counting does require you a bit of maths but you are not required to possess Einstein level of intelligence to count cards. In fact, we will go as far as to say that you don’t even have to be good at maths. All you need to master the art of card counting is the desire to learn and the patience, perseverance required to practice it.

If you are just starting out your blackjack card counting journey, then the good news is that there are several strategies that you can use. They can range from beginner related tips and tricks to the more challenging ones reserved for advanced card counters.

Types of Blackjack Card Counting Strategies

Hi Lo

Let’s start off by looking at the simplest technique for counting cards called Hi-Lo. This technique involves dividing cards into three groups and assigning each card a positive, negative or neutral value. Cards 2 to 6 are worth +1 point as taking them out from the deck is beneficial from a player’s perspective. Cards 7 to 9 are given 0 points as they do not change the odds. Cards 10, J, Q, K, and A, also known as high cards are assigned a value of -1. This is because by taking out the cards, the odds get stacked against you and thus in favour of the house. With every card that is being dealt, you have to keep on adding or subtracting the values. When the values become negative, you stake less and when the values become positive you stake more.

Hi Lo card counting

Running Count Vs. True Count

This process of card counting is applicable for single deck games only. If the game uses more than one deck of cards, then the processing of adding and subtracting will not be enough. You will not be able to deduce what cards are coming up next in a game that uses multiple decks. For a game that uses more than one deck, you will be required to figure out the ‘true’ count. This is achieved by dividing the running count by the total number of decks left in the game.

For example, say you running count is +8 and you believe that the number of decks left in the game to be 2. You divide 8 by 2 to get your true count of +4. Bear in mind that achieving an exact number for the true count is not required as you can just round it up to the nearest number. If the true count comes out as +2.6, then you round the number to 3.

Canfield Expert Card Counting System

Blackjack Your Way to RichesDespite appearing more than three decades ago, the Canfield Expert Card counting system is still used today. The system was introduced by author Richard Albert Canfield via the book ‘Blackjack Your Way to Riches’ along with the slightly more complicated “Canfield Master Count”.

This system similar to Hi Lo is best equipped to be used with a single deck of cards and requires you to keep a running count as opposed to the true count. It also a balanced system meaning that when all the cards in the deck have been counted, the final count should tally to zero. For this system to work, you need to divide the cards into three groups. Cards 3 to 7 are low numbers and add 1 to the count. Cards 9,10, Jack, Queen, King are high number are you subtract 1 from the count. 2,8 and Ace are considered as neutral are carry no value.

When the running count is high, you should increase your bet size and do the opposite when the running count is low. The Canfield Expert Count works primarily because it is a simple system to use as you required to work with just +1 and -1 in the running count. The drawback of its simplicity is that it gives you a much smaller edge over the house compared to other advanced blackjack card counting systems and that it can only be used for games with a single deck.

Canfield Master Card Counting System

This is the trickier version of the Canfield Expert Card Counting System also introduced via the book ‘Blackjack Your Way to Riches’. While the original system used values of +1 and -1, the Master system adds in +2 and -2 as well.

Knockout (KO) Card Counting System

Introduced via the book “Knock Out Blackjack”, the system allocates cards the same values as the Hi Lo system with the exception of number 7. This is considered as a low card and carried a positive value unlike the Hi Lo system where it has no value. It is also not a balanced strategy which means that if you begin at zero and after all the cards have been counted, you are not going to finish at zero.

To use this system effectively, you will need to keep a running count starting from zero. Add one if a low card appears, add another one if the another low card is dealt so the running count becomes 2. When a new hand starts, the running count will continue until a new shoe is reshuffled. A count that is high or low indicates that the deck is heavy on the low or high side. If it is heavier on the high side, it is an indication that smaller cards are left in the deck while being heavier on the negative count indicates the opposite.

The Highly Optimum (Hi Opt) Card Counting System

Based on the Hi Lo system, the Hi Opt card counting strategy was introduced by Charles Einstein in 1968. There are two variations to the system. The Hi Opt 1 where the deck starts at a value of zero and you then keep a count based on the cards you are dealt. Cards Ace, 2, 7, 8, 9 are deemed neutral, 3, 4, 5, 6 carry +1 value whereas 10, Jack, Queen, King are -1. As before, when the true count is positive you will want to increase your bet size and vice versa when the count is negative.

Hi Opt 2 Card Counting System

The Hi Opt 2 is a system is more accurate than Hi Opt 1 which also makes it more complicated to execute. The complexity is introduced via the values that are assigned for certain cards. With Hi Opt 1 and the +1 and -1 values it assigns to cards, you will often find cards cancelling each other out. With this Hi Opt 2 system, the following card values are assigned –

With cards 2, 3, 6, or 7, you add 1 to the running count. With either 4 or 5, you add 2 to the count and subtract 2 from the running count if you are dealt with either 10, J, Q, or K. The ace, 8 or 9 carry no value. Once you have the running count using the values assigned above, you will need to once again convert it into a true count which makes this system suitable for multiple decks. As the true count heads in the positive direction, you bet more and vice versa if it becomes negative.

KISS Card Counting Systems

Blackjack BluebookThe KISS came into intro prominence following the publication of the book by Fred Renzey titled “Blackjack Bluebook II – The Simplest Winning Strategies Ever Published”. These card counting systems are unbalanced meaning that once all the cards have been dealt, the running count does not go to zero.

The KISS system work on a simple compared to the systems mentioned above and do so by omitting half of the cards in the deck. This makes it easier for player as they are not required to remember so many assigned values to cards. In this system cards Ace, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 carry no value. 4, 5, 6 are positive and you need to add +1 to the count and subtract 1 every time 10, J, Q, K are dealt.


A modified version of KISS 1, this system improves your advantage over the casino.  You add one for cards 3, 4, 5 ,6 and subtract one for K, Q, J and 10. You also add one when you are dealt a black 2 and do nothing when you are dealt a red 2 and 2, 7, 8 and 9.


The latest variation to the KISS card systems and one that is designed to keep up with modern times. This is also the most complicated variation of the three as it requires you to track more cards than the other two versions of the system. Starting with a count of zero, you subtract one from the count when you are dealt cards A, K, Q, J, or 10. You add one for cards 3 to 7 and also when you see a black 2. Red 2, 8 and 9 carry no value. Out of all the KISS systems, this one gives you the greatest advantage over the casino and provides a betting correlation or efficiency of 0.98.

Uston SS Card Counting System

Created by legendary player, Ken Uston this card counting system is the most complicated on this list. Unlike the others where you start at a running count of zero, for Uston SS running count is calculated by multiplying the number of decks by -2. For example, if you are playing with 4 decks then the running count will be -8. Once you have established the running count, the next step is to assign values. For cards 2,3,4 or 6 you need to add 2. You add one for card 7 while card 8 is considered as neutral. In terms of subtraction, you deduct one when card 9 shows up and deduct two for cards ten, jack, queen, king or ace. For card 5, you will need to add 3 to the running count.

As you can tell already, this is a fairly complicated system as you will be required to remember the different values assigned to the cards. In terms of the betting strategy, you keep your bet size to a minimum if the count is negative and start increasing the moment it becomes positive.

These are just some of the different card counting strategies that you can deploy. As you can tell, they vary from one another due to their rate of success and complexity. Some card counting strategies are likely to give you a higher success rate but mastering these strategies is not easy. Some might even take months to learn!

Card Counting Checklist

Before you decide to log into your favourite online casino and begin your blackjack journey, it is worth having a look at the checklist below. This will ensure that you have covered all bases when it comes to card counting and will help to refresh your memory on the basics before you click the play button.

Memorise Your Basic Strategy

There are no shortcuts to this. If you want to do well in blackjack and are going to use card counting to do so then you need to know your basic strategy by heart. There will be times when the basic strategy will fail but you need to trust it during such dire times as well.

Know Your Values

Continuing on the previous point of sticking with a strategy say like the Hi Lo system, you need to not only stick to but also should know the value that is assigned to each card. The moment a card lands on the table you should know the value assigned to it.

Practise, Practise, Practise!

We live in the age of technology where information is readily available to us. This can be both good and bad. Good as it allows you to absorb information from different perspectives and bad because it might boost your ego and prevent you from practicing your game. Despite reading blackjack tutorials and watching blackjack card counting videos, you should never give up practicing card counting. Whether that involves in a black jack game online or against a dealer in a land based casino.

Block Out the Noise

In our article called, we wrote about all the dirty tricks land based casinos use to distract you. This will also be the case when you sit on a blackjack table. The environment will not be as serene and comfortable as the one you find it home. You need to rise above this and concentrate on the game at hand. Block out the noise, don’t order the next round of drinks till you have won the game.

Have a Stable Bank Roll

As is the case with any casino game that you play, you need to ensure that you have sufficient funds to play the game. Success at a blackjack table will not come overnight and regardless of whichever strategy you use, you will have to lose a few dollars to get it right.